, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 163-178
Date: 25 May 2006

Toward Reversal of Eutrophic Conditions in a Subtropical Estuary: Water Quality and Seagrass Response to Nitrogen Loading Reductions in Tampa Bay, Florida, USA

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Abstract

Coastal waters have been significantly influenced by increased inputs of nutrients that have accompanied population growth in adjacent drainage basins. In Tampa Bay, Florida, USA, the population has quadrupled since 1950. By the late 1970s, eutrophic conditions including phytoplankton and macroalgal blooms and seagrass losses were evident. The focus of improving Tampa Bay is centered on obtaining sufficient water quality necessary for restoring seagrass habitat, estimated to have been 16,400 ha in 1950 but reduced to 8800 ha by 1982. To address these problems, targets for nutrient load reductions along with seagrass restoration goals were developed and actions were implemented to reach adopted targets. Empirical regression models were developed to determine relationships between chlorophyll a concentrations and light attenuation adequate for sustainable seagrass growth. Additional empirical relationships between nitrogen loading and chlorophyll a concentrations were developed to determine how Tampa Bay responds to changes in loads. Data show that when nitrogen load reduction and chlorophyll a targets are met, seagrass cover increases. After nitrogen load reductions and maintenance of chlorophyll a at target levels, seagrass acreage has increased 25% since 1982, although more than 5000 ha of seagrass still require recovery. The cooperation of scientists, managers, and decision makers participating in the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s Nitrogen Management Strategy allows the Tampa Bay estuary to continue to show progress towards reversing many of the problems that once plagued its waters. These results also highlight the importance of a multi-entity watershed management process in maintaining progress towards science-based natural resource goals.